Keep swimmer’s ear at bay with these tips

August 13, 2012

Many of us know about swimming dangers like drowning. But there is a lesser-known danger you can get in a pool. It is called swimmer's ear.

According to MayoClinic.com , swimmer's ear is an infection in the outer ear canal. This canal runs from your eardrum to the outside of your head. Swimmer's ear happens if water remains in your ear after swimming. The water creates a moist area that aids bacterial growth.

Putting fingers, cotton swabs, or other objects in your ears also cause swimmer's ear. These objects can damage the thin layer of skin lining your ear canal. Swimmer's ear is usually treated with eardrops. Quick treatment can help prevent more serious infections.  

How do you know if you have swimmer’s ear?

 Swimmer's ear symptoms are usually mild at first. But they can get worse if your infection is not treated or spreads. Here are of signs of swimmer's ear that you should look out for:

 Mild signs:

  • Itching in your ear canal
  • Slight redness inside your ear
  • Mild pain that's made worse by pulling on your outer ear
  • Mild pain that's made worse by pushing on the "bump" in front of your ear
  • Some drainage of clear, odorless fluid

Moderate signs:

  • More intense itching
  • Increasing pain
  • More extensive redness in your ear
  • Excessive fluid coming out of your ear
  • Feeling of fullness inside your ear
  • Decreased or muffled hearing

Advanced signs:

  • Severe pain that may go to your face, neck or side of your head
  • Complete blockage of your ear canal
  • Redness or swelling of your outer ear
  • Swelling in your neck
  • Fever

When to see a doctor

Call your doctor if you are having any signs of swimmer's ear. You should call even if your signs are mild. If you have severe pain or a fever, you should go to the emergency room.

If swimmer's ear goes untreated, you can have serious problems. These can include:

Temporary hearing loss: You may have muffled hearing that usually gets better after the infection clears up.

Long-term infection: Signs can last for more than three months. These infections are more common if there are conditions that make treatment a problem. These conditions can be:

  • A rare type of bacteria
  • An allergic skin reaction
  • An allergic reaction to eardrops
  • A combination of a bacterial and fungal infection

Deep-tissue infection: Constant swimmer's ear may result in the spread of infection. The infection can get into deep layers and connective tissues of the skin.

More widespread infection: A swimmer's ear infection can spread to other parts of your body. These other areas can include the brain or nearby nerves. This rare problem can be life threatening.

Preventing swimmer’s ear

There are ways to protect yourself from swimmer's ear. These ways include:

Keep your ears dry. Dry your ears thoroughly after you swim or take a bath. Dry only your outer ear. Wipe it slowly and gently with a soft towel or cloth. Tip your head to the side to help water drain from your ear canal.

Swim smart. Watch for signs alerting swimmers to high bacterial counts and don't swim on those days.

Never put things in your ear. Never try to scratch an itch or dig out earwax with any item. These items include cotton swabs, paper clips, or hairpins. Using these items can pack material deeper into your ear canal. They can also irritate the thin skin inside your ear or break the skin.

Protect your ears from irritants. Put cotton balls in your ears while using products like hair sprays and hair dyes.

Use caution after an ear infection or surgery. Be careful if you have recently had an ear infection or ear surgery. You should talk to your doctor before you go swimming.